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The Military Idle Technology

Former Truck Driver Reconstructs A-bomb 332

Posted by samzenpus
from the we-got-a-great-big-nuclear-convoy dept.
mdsolar writes "Coster-Mullen taught himself how to build an A-bomb. 'The secret of the atomic bomb,' he says, 'is how easy they are to make.' His findings are available in a book he continuously updates and publishes himself called Atom Bombs: The Top Secret Inside Story of Little Boy and Fat Man, which has received rave reviews from the National Resource Defense Council: 'Nothing else in the Manhattan Project literature comes close to his exacting breakdown of the bomb's parts.'"

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Former Truck Driver Reconstructs A-bomb

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  • How long? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by HikingStick (878216)
    How long before his book get's the Anarchist's Cookbook treatment? I expect we'll see new headlines in the coming weeks, reflecting how the government has now classified all his research and writings, and labeled the author as a threat to national security (or as a friend to terrorists and hater of puppies and kittens).
    • by Unkyjar (1148699)

      Both puppies AND kittens? Is he trying to remain neutral in the Cats vs. Dogs wars? Or does he just have allergies?

      • by nschubach (922175)

        He's been playing cats against dogs for years. It's really a power pull he's playing between the two sides. One minute he'll be whispering in the dog's ear to get the cat, and the next, he'll be telling cats how to get the dogs.

        It's genius really. He's positioned himself to be popular among both sides while getting them to compete with each other while ignoring him and look what happens while both the cats and dogs were looking the other way:

        Now he has an atomic bomb.

    • by Isaac-1 (233099)

      Big deal, the original idea and proposal to FDR was from a former patent clerk.

      • by Surt (22457)

        And you know he got his ideas from others patent applications that he buried.

    • How long before his book get's the Anarchist's Cookbook treatment? I expect we'll see new headlines in the coming weeks, reflecting how the government has now classified all his research and writings

      Considering this book was first discussed on Slashdot [slashdot.org] two years ago, was published nearly seven years ago, and his work was widely discussed on newgroups, forums, and mailing lists where nuclear historians hang out as much as a decade ago...

      The government has had plenty of opportunity to do so, and has d

  • Former truck driver magically disappears from society after publishing 'how to make A-bomb"

    • by afidel (530433) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @09:25AM (#35677700)
      Not really, everything including technical schematics from the Manhattan Project have been available for decades. The knowledge of how to make a simple gun design device isn't what keeps people from making nukes, it's the availability of highly enriched uranium.
      • by nschubach (922175)

        Still, I predict that someone will make a mock up and leave it in a public place. You know how people react to stray devices laying around.

        • by MoonBuggy (611105)

          It could happen, I guess, but it'd be a fairly odd thing to do. The average member of the public isn't going to see a nondescript metal box and say "Oh no, that looks like the design of a gun-type nuclear device", and anybody in a position to recognise the thing for what it might be (probably only the bomb disposal team) will be armed with Geiger counters. People would probably panic far more at seeing one of these [google.com] on the street compared to the reaction that an accurate replica of a nuclear weapon would rec

        • by Jawnn (445279)
          You don't even have to go to that much work. Advertising devices, with blinky lights [wikipedia.org], left in public places are enough to cause a Homeland Security "incident".
      • by peragrin (659227)

        Exactly the highly techincal part of nuclear bombs is enriching uranium to the right levels of the correct isotopes. Once you have enough the rest is Childs play

      • Exactly. It's easy to build an atomic bomb, hell I can build a detonator for i.e. dynamite from shit on my office desk and the magnets out of a hard drive we're going to wipe next week. There's no dynamite in my office, no nitroglycerin, no nitrocellulose, no other appropriate explosives... so it's pretty much harmless, I could use it to light an LED maybe just to be funny. In the same way, an atomic bomb mechanism is pretty useless without 4700 pounds of C4 high explosive and a chunk of enriched fissile
  • by JackSpratts (660957) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @09:18AM (#35677622) Homepage
    John Aristotle Phillips tried this 35 years ago. He toured college towns giving lectures shadowed by pro-nuke goons. I saw him once, and the goons. He was quite the nervous fellow.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @09:20AM (#35677632)
    Both their first bomb tests fizzled with yields about a tenth of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. They had been designed to be Hiroshima-size.

    So claiming to be able to make a bomb and actually getting them work properly are two different things.
    • by Buggz (1187173)

      with yields about a tenth of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

      Only a tenth? I won't need the sunglasses then, will I?

    • by quenda (644621)

      Both their first bomb tests fizzled with yields about a tenth of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

      Not the same. Gun-type bombs are so easy that the US and South Africa (at least) built them and did not bother to test them.
      NK and Pakistan also did tests only for the more difficult implosion design. If they have sufficient highly enriched uranium, they will not waste it on a test.

      • by clonan (64380)

        They didn't test the uranium device because they didn't have any extra U235. If they had tested it then it would have taken another 3 years to purify enough U235 for another bomb.

        They wanted to test it but couldn't so they crossed their fingers and hit the button.

  • by chemicaldave (1776600) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @09:21AM (#35677648)
    He didn't reconstruct a bomb, he reverse engineered it and taught himself how to build one.
    • by hedwards (940851)

      Which is why the vision of a nuclear weapon free future is almost certain to never happen. That particular cat is out of the bag, and not going back in any time soon.

      • by am 2k (217885)

        Well, there's one way: Construct a non-nuclear bomb that's easier and cheaper to build and has at least the same level of destruction.

  • by Nimey (114278) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @09:21AM (#35677654) Homepage Journal

    which are a rather simple design; among other things, they don't have any safety features.

    Broadly, what you need is two correctly sized-and-shaped chunks of enriched uranium with enough U-235 to cause a chain reaction, a smoothbore gun barrel (IIRC Little Boy used one of 6" diameter), and some gunpowder in silk bags to drive one piece of uranium into the other. There are a few other parts to this, such as the tamper and the fuze, but the toughest part should be obtaining enough enriched uranium.

    Certainly the featured bomb is not a fully-working model. It'll be a reproduction with inert material standing in for the U-235, no gunpowder, and an inert fuze.

    • by somersault (912633) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @09:26AM (#35677712) Homepage Journal

      Certainly the featured bomb is not a fully-working model. It'll be a reproduction with inert material standing in for the U-235, no gunpowder, and an inert fuze.

      That seems a bit overkill. Couldn't he at least use two coconut halves for the U-235, a little bit of gunpower and a real fuse? Then at least you'd get a bang and a "clop!" when you set it off.

      • by hoggoth (414195)

        > Couldn't he at least use two coconut halves for the U-235, a little bit of gunpower and a real fuse?

        Then the headline would have read "Former Castaway Professor Reconstructs A-Bomb".

      • by imaque (1341185)

        That seems a bit overkill. Couldn't he at least use two coconut halves for the U-235, a little bit of gunpower and a real fuse? Then at least you'd get a bang and a "clop!" when you set it off.

        You've got two empty halves of coconuts and you're banging them together!

    • by Thud457 (234763) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @09:29AM (#35677738) Homepage Journal
      I seriously doubt that he's figured out to use a Frisbee to spoof the motion detectors to steal super enriched plutonium from John Lithgow's lab. D'OH!
    • by rgmoore (133276) <glandauer@charter.net> on Thursday March 31, 2011 @12:41PM (#35679836) Homepage

      It's a little bit more complicated than that. The average time between neutron emissions in the fissile material for a gun-type bomb has to be substantially longer than the assembly time. Otherwise you'll get predetonation and the device will fizzle. If the design doesn't incorporate a neutron source, the parts will just sit there until there's finally a spontaneous emission that can start a chain reaction.

      To avoid that unpredictable delay, during which the pieces might move back out of perfect alignment, real-world gun-type designs have incorporated neutron sources that release extra neutrons at just the right moment. The most common design uses an explosion to mix polonium and beryllium, which then release enough neutrons to trigger the reaction. That kind of neutron generator was used in the Little Boy device.

  • ...not just flicking over them with my eyeballs on autopilot. I read "Former Truck Driver Reconstructs A Bomb" and thought - "So what? Is this a particular bomb, a historical bomb or something". It was only about 10 seconds later when my brain caught up and made me re-check what I'd actually read.
    Would it really have hurt to add an extra 5 characters into the headline?

    • by Unkyjar (1148699)

      Maybe not, but by leaving them out they've gotten you to share a funny story which brightened up my day.

  • So he has one in his garage or something?
    There is nothing fundamentally difficult about making an A-bomb, particularly a plutonium-based bomb, except obtaining the fissionable material, handling it, and keeping people from finding out about it.
    • by fnj (64210) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @09:40AM (#35677886)

      Sorry, you've got it wrong. It's a uranium-type gun-type bomb that is dead simple to build and practically foolproof if you've done the elementary physics and workmanship right. The only hard part with that is getting the highly enriched uranium. A plutonium-based implosion-type bomb is another story. The hollow spherical high-explosive lense and the arrangement of synchronized detonators is very, very exacting, and the very specialized grade of krytron tube to set it off just right so it doesn't fizzle.

    • by afidel (530433)
      Actually plutonium bombs are significantly more complex than HE Uranium gun type designs.
      • Because they go supercritical faster and need a higher acceleration with more precision. An implosion type HE Uranium bomb only needs "perfect spherical implosion" to a certain degree of precision at a certain pressure with a certain amount of energy; but plutonium fisses so quickly that you need a lot more force, and your precision needs to be higher i.e. a more completely perfect sphere of implosion pressure, otherwise the bomb fizzles out. Gun-type plutonium bombs need the projectile to reach a speed n
  • I'm sure someone up at the NSA is saying to themselves "OK wait, this guy is a truck driver and before that was a photographer....and now he's reverse engineered the goddamn A-bomb??". How is that possible?
    • i doubt anyone at the NSA is that naive

      Back in primary school, at the age of 11-12, i read about the theory of nuclear fision (mostly the basic principals used in a fision reactor), i dont remember wether i also knew about critical mass and the uranium gun-type design, but i truely believe i would have understood the basic design.

      Sure, working out the exact dimensions of various parts would have been beyond the working knowledge of a 12-year old, but once out of high school that shouldn't have been a real p

    • by srussia (884021)

      I'm sure someone up at the NSA is saying to themselves "OK wait, this guy is a truck driver and before that was a photographer....and now he's reverse engineered the goddamn A-bomb??". How is that possible?

      Yeah, the order is all wrong. As sibling Vectormatic points out, A-Bomb knowledge comes first, then you become a truck driver and finally a photographer.

  • by Wolvenhaven (1521217) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @09:25AM (#35677698) Homepage
    The difficulty isn't the design, it's getting ahold of enough enriched U-235 to actually have a working bomb.

    Simple design, extremely complex materials.
    • by blueg3 (192743)

      It's also tricky to figure out all the physics and finer engineering points (how much to use, etc.) the first time. After that it's not nearly as difficult.

      But yes, the engineering behind obtaining enriched uranium is enormously more complex than building the bomb itself.

      • The GP is correct. Remember how USA didn't need any test for the gun-type bomb before deploying it against Japan? The actual calculations involved aren't too hard; you can do the modelling easily on a home computer in short time, assuming that you know the relevant physical properties (neutron interaction cross-section for the part of neutron spectrum the bomb will use, neutron reflection coefficients if you want to reflectors for improved power, and so on). If you have the materials, you can use them exces

    • I think the real purpose of his work is more historical. It's less, "how does one build an A-bomb" and more "how did they build an A-bomb?"

      There was a pretty good magazine article about him a few years back -- I think in Rolling Stone, or maybe Esquire, of all places. They'd spent a lot of time interviewing him, and the picture you got was that he found tiny, probably irrelevant, details of the bomb's construction fascinating. The work he's done for a hobby isn't that of an engineer per-se, but more that

    • "I'm sure that in 1985, you can buy plutonium at every corner drugstore... in 1955, it's a little hard to come by !"

      Seriously, though, atomic weapons are kind of like supersonic jets. They require a fairly high engineering know-how just to make one that barely works at all. To make one that works really well, you need a tremendous amount of know-how (usually gained through repeated attempts), many hours of supercomputer modelling, and highly exotic materials.

      Unfortunately, sometimes even a primitive,
    • by nate nice (672391)

      So it's like making any kind of good armor in World of Warcraft, essentially.

    • At least in my high school physics class. Diagrams and everything, and a wink and a nod to look at Anarchist's Cookbook for more zany projects. Then again, my physics and chemistry teacher was a weird guy. An award winning weird guy, but a weird guy nonetheless. He must have done something right because I still love physics and chemistry and remember a surprising amount of it.
  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @09:26AM (#35677704)
    He hasn't actually built one, so the only way we would know whether or not he has successfully reconstructed the design would be if someone who actually designs nuclear bombs today were to look at his plans and say that, "Yes, that would result in a functional atomic bomb." Or if someone were to follow his plans, build an atomic bomb and set it off. It is distinctly possible that he has successfully reconstructed the plans, At this point, all we have is his claim that what he put in his book would be sufficient to build a functional atomic bomb.
  • by scharkalvin (72228) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @09:30AM (#35677752) Homepage

    It isn't how the bomb is constructed that is the hard part. 'Little boy' was very simple, but very crude. Most of the Uranium in the bomb was wasted because critical mass was not maintained long enough to consume most of the material. The yield of Little boy was only 9-10 kilotons, compared to 12-15 kilotons for 'Fat Man'. The hard part was the processing of the nuclear material to get enough of the high grade stuff concentrated enough to reach critical mass. That's the part you can't do in your garage. If you can steal enough material that will assemble to reach critical mass the rest is easy. During the war we were able to process enough Uranium for but a single bomb, and enough Plutonium for perhaps four. There was a third core available to drop on a third city in Japan if necessary and a forth was a few months away. (The first core was the Trinity test bomb, the second over Nagasaki).

    • Isn't there another story about how a kid was able to scrape enough material from glow in the dark clock faces?
  • Got some good reviews on Amazon [amazon.com]. He self-published and apparently delivers the spiral-bound gems hand signed. I'm thinking the MIB will be visiting him shortly, but if not, it means whatever is in his book is probably not noteworthy.
  • Let me yet again recommend everybody read THE MAKING OF THE ATOMIC BOMB by Richard Rhodes. The descriptions of what the experience was like, on the ground to survivors of Hiroshima at various radii from the explosion are among the most difficult things I've ever read. I constantly read and hear flip comments about atomic weapons. If you think it's a great opportunity for humor, you're not really familiar with the actual history.

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @09:40AM (#35677882) Homepage Journal
    Instructions [earthlink.net] on how to do this have been available for YEARS! They won't even get you a runner-up in a junior science competition anymore!
    • by scotts13 (1371443)

      MANY years. My eighth grade (circa 1969) science project was a "working" model of a gun-type uranium bomb. If you have the fissionable material and do the math right, the engineering is almost trivial. Unfortunately for me, the hidden flash bulb that triggered when my "uranium" masses met caused my teacher to soil her underwear. I got an "F" for inappropriate subject material (overturned on appeal).

  • Don't try this at home, kids! ;-)

  • by PPH (736903) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @10:28AM (#35678390)

    Next time one of these guys wants to pass, you'll think twice about blocking the left lane.

  • For a more in-depth story about Coster-Mullen and his pursuit of the A-Bomb, check out this New Yorker article [newyorker.com] published in December 2008.

  • Uranium based ones: easy to build, hard to get materials for

    Plutonium based ones: relatively easy to get materials for, very hard to build

    This has been known for years, nothing much is new here.
  • The guy had a white collar job for 30 years before being a truck driver for 10. In other words, he (probably) had a college degree, which most truckers probably wouldn't have had. Sigh. I'm not even surprised by what passes for journalism anymore.

  • From the New Yorker article, here's the one big item of new info he's discovered:

    In the standard historical accounts, the way that the bomb's gun mechanism worked was by shooting a cylindrical âoemaleâ uranium projectile into a concave, stationary uranium target. This act of atomic coitus created a mass sufficient to produce a critical reaction. The mass of the projectile was said to be 38.5 kilograms, and the mass of the target was said to be 25.6 kilograms. But no matter how many times Coster-Mullen did the math the numbers never quite worked out in a way that allowed the projectile and the target to fit inside the gun barrel while remaining subcritical.

    The source of the error, Coster-Mullen recognized, was an assumption that every (male) researcher who studied the subject had made about the relation between projectile and target. These scholars had apparently been unable to conceive of an arrangement other than a "missionary position" bomb, in which a solid male projectile penetrated a vessel-like female target. But Coster-Mullen realized that a female-superior arrangement - in which a hollow projectile slammed down on top of a stationary cylinder of highly enriched uranium - yielded the correct size and mass.

    Now that's a surprise. I wonder why the Manhattan Project did it that way, shooting the larger mass into the smaller mass. Maybe that was to get the assembly to hold together longer while the chain reaction initiated.

    (For those of you who slept through the atomic weapons part of high school physics, the Hiroshima bomb was a "gun" bomb, where the tube from an artillery piece was used to fire one subcritical mass of uranium i

  • If you think knowing how to create an A-Bomb is useful, here are some more "how to do it" [youtube.com] items of equal importance and utility!

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